An Interview with Audrey Assad
Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall recently reconnected with noted artist, songwriter, and worship leader, Audrey Assad. In addition to her busy ministry schedule, she has also been in-studio, co-writing with, and producing, Sarah Kroger. The project is a full-length LP, entitled, Bloom, and is scheduled for release this Fall.
Worship Leader (WL): Audrey, it’s been a few months since we connected at the National Worship Leader Conference in Nashville. Thank you again for your valuable contributions there. Your segments during the “Songwriters in the Round” evening we so well-received and talked about in follow up. What’s it like to participate in something like this along with such very gifted peers?
Audrey Assad: I am often honored by the caliber of songwriting and character that surrounds me in this town and that night was no exception! Frankly, I’m just gleeful that I get to do things like that, so thank you for hosting me.
WL: Our current issue examines the theme of “tradition”. How has tradition played a role in your personal life of worship, as well as your rich history of recordings?
Audrey: Anyone who knows me well is aware that although I may be known as somewhat socially liberal, I do very much value the religious disciplines and practices of those who have gone before me. I draw a lot of inspiration in my life and music from those who engaged in traditions of prayer that date back many centuries—I have written tunes for 4th-century chants and taken my cues lyrically from people like Thomas Merton, who is a modern figure but who lived a traditional monastic lifestyle. I think tradition makes the tapestry deeper. It isn’t something to idolize but it’s also nothing to sneer at. And really, we’re all making things traditional. At this point, fog machines and pop music at church are traditions, too. It is so often both the folly and the beauty of the young to try and throw things away, only to re-imagine them again.
WL: Your discography and continued music and worship contributions to the church are quite profound, and your current project, Evergreen, is no exception. The lyric, “God on a cross, who would have thought it, this place looks nothing like Eden”, is exceptionally thought-provoking. What can you tell us about this project and the crafting of it?
Audrey: I wrote the bulk of the songs on Evergreen during a time of deeply painful healing after many years experiencing the soul-suffocating combination of legalism and river-deep doubt. A lot of the lyrics on the album are symbolic of my desires to break free from psychologically tormenting ideas about God and humanity. That lyric you mentioned is me pointing out that God on a cross looks nothing like our place of origin, but it is the place of our rebirth, and though the scenes do not resemble each other, they are preciously connected. Too often I forget that the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the garden is the God who showed us in Christ precisely who He has always been.
WL: And now you are here, in-studio, producing Sarah Kroger! It is such a rarity to hear of a female producing a project, but it’s just great. How did this collaboration come about?
Audrey: I pitched myself to her for the entire project when she asked me to produce a song or two. I’ve been producing my own records for 5 years now and I’ve grown and learned so much—I was honored she asked me and the record themes grabbed me so much that I had to put my name in the hat. She picked me, and I am so thankful and excited to see how it turns out in the end.
WL: What’s it like taking on the role of producer in a male-dominated musical arena?
Audrey: I’m hoping you want a really frank answer because that is what you are getting.
Being a female producer is like being a ghostwriter. You may have crafted and made something almost top to bottom, but most people don’t know it. In fact, they assume otherwise. Can’t count how many times I’ve played a demo of a song I wrote with a man and the person listening assumes that my co-writer made the demo and not me. There’s a certain level of invisibility to it, and it feels almost like I have to convince people that yes, I really do know how to work software and put mics in front of things and people, and compress and edit and whatnot. But I’m learning to relish the challenge, and I’m conscious of the fact that simply by making records I’m proud of, I’m hopefully creating space for more women to do this in the future.
WL: There are “hymn-like” qualities to some of the compositions on Sarah’s record. By hymn-like, I mean in sound and lyrical theology. You have also captured the emotion of “sung prayer” on this project, which is the essence of true worship. What can you tell us about the direction of Sarah Kroger’s Bloom release? She has such a beautifully pure voice.
Audrey: Sarah is like a flower herself.
She is blooming and growing as a songwriter, a woman, and an artist—her natural sound is tinged with history and tradition, but still modern and confessional/confiding. I think Bloom will create a little sonic world in which both hymns and Peter Gabriel-esque, deep and wide pop, have prominence and place. That’s exciting to me.
WL: What advice do you have for aspiring worship leaders and worship songwriters?
Audrey: The music for the church that moves me the most, personally, is music that comes out of musical community. Songs that come out of groups who are living and loving and learning together seem to have a particular potency—whether that’s two or two hundred people. So my advice would be, find your muses and your mentors and write about the things that are touching your lives. Worship songs from a context like that are often truly compelling and universal without being pandering, because they come from real life lived together.